Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
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In 1977, the British musician, Peter Gabriel, went for a stroll through the Somerset countryside of South West England. There he came upon a small flat-topped uprising of earth: Solsbury Hill. Upon reaching the summit, Gabriel claims to have had a profound spiritual experience that moved him to immortalize the mound of earth with the eponymous "Solsbury Hill." Given the history of the ancient Hill, it's no wonder the ghosts lingering atop it inspired Gabriel's song.
Solsbury Hill was an Iron Age hill fort occupied between 300 and 100 BC. The huts built atop the flattened hill were burnt down, most likely during the Belgic invasion of the region. Since then, this hill, located near the Fosse Way Roman Road, has been the site of several bloody exchanges, none more auspicious than the Battle of Mount Badon, a battle allegedly fought between the Saxons and the Britons, led by the legendary King Arthur around 496 AD. The name Solsbury is often misspelled as the more common Salisbury, but the hill fort takes its name from the Celtic god, Sulis, one of the deities worshipped at the spring near Bath.
Solsbury Hill overlooking Bath
Photo: Iain Macaulay, Geograph Project, CC 2.0
Today, Solsbury Hill offers visitors an idyllic picnic spot. Rising 626 feet above the River Avon, Solsbury Hill offers spectacular views of the village of Batheaston as well as the surrounding Cotswolds Area, known for its outstanding beauty. In fact, Gabriel returned to this special location to record the natural sounds on Solsbury Hill for the track "A Quiet Moment" on his 2011 album New Blood
, the track preceding the orchestral rendition of the original "Solsbury Hill."
Spiritual experience aside, Gabriel wrote "Solsbury Hill" shortly after his departure from the prog rock band Genesis, the band for which he'd been lead singer since its inception. The lyrics of the song, his debut solo single, seem to hint more at freedom and the idea of going solo than any spiritual revelation. "I went from day to day, Tho' my life was in a rut, 'Till I thought of what I'd say, Which connection I should cut." Perhaps Gabriel leaving the band and starting his solo career was revelation enough. "Solsbury Hill" was a Top 20 hit in the UK and even managed to reach the Top 70 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The song has since been used in a number of movies including Vanilla Sky
and In Good Company
. It has also been covered by artists such as Dave Matthews, Sarah MacLachlan and Justin Hines. The song itself is unusual given its 7/4 time signature, which settles into 4/4 only for the last two measures of each chorus. Although fresh out of Genesis, "Solsbury Hill" already illustrated Gabriel's own unique style with an almost folksy undertone over which the singer's voice took centre stage.
"Solsbury Hill," as a debut single, showcases the creativity Gabriel felt was being stifled within Genesis, and proved a mere stepping stone towards an outstanding career for Gabriel, both as a musician and live gig showman. Suzanne van Rooyen
November 29, 2014
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. Although she has a Master's degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and The Other Me.
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